C. THE DOROTHEA MISSION MINISTRY
FOUNDING OF THE RADIO AND CASSETTE MINISTRY
These years during which Martie and I were together in running the campaigns, was a wonderful period of our lives, a period during which we also got so much closer to one another, probably due to the hardships we had been sharing.
Then came the time when Frans had grown to the age he had to go to school, with the result that Martie and the children had to remain at home while I went out on campaigns. To both of us, this was a very distressing experience. By that time we had been married for eight years and before our marriage, I had courted her for six years during which time we had hardly ever been separated from one another, so we felt like being physically, emotionally and spiritually torn apart. Campaigns lasted upwards of three weeks in the course of which I never returned home. Cell phones were not yet available so I had to use the landline of the people that hosted me to phone her to at least hear her voice now and then, and she mine. Such conversations could seldom be conducted in privacy. We also corresponded and she still has a letter I wrote her at that time.
In a sense she was a bit better off than me, for she had the children with her, but I was all alone. Oh, how I missed them. I remember one day parking the car next to a school’s playing grounds, sitting there, looking at the children and desperately longing to have my two little ones on my lap. Their faces were continually before me and I could hear their excited chatter ringing in my ears.
Apart from the reports we submitted to Head Office at the close of every campaign, we also had to write a personal letter to Mr von Staden every now and then. I mentioned our feelings to him, requesting for a change of field of service to enable us to spend more time together as a family. I also shared with him my burden for the converts, people that came to the Lord during our campaign but were left without any further spiritual teaching. I requested to be allowed to produce audio cassettes in different African languages to send to them. My vision was to set up a system whereby the Whites that had requested us to hold the campaigns, either on the farms or in the nearby townships, could order cassette’s from us and use their tape recorders to play these to the converts. The idea was that they would do so regularly, say once a week. During that time they would also pray for the converts and counsel them, for these Whites normally were devoted Christians, well capable of running such a ministry.
I did not tell Martie that I was going to put forward this request, for I did not want to disappoint her should my request be turned down. In this I did well for the Lord wanted to deal with her in His own way…….
MARTIE’S ACCOUNT OF “WANTING BEN BACK HOME”
“We always accompanied Ben on campaigns, but soon the time came when our son, Frans had to attend school. We were then staying in one of the houses on the Mission premises. As a family we had never before been separated from one another and I found it very taxing when Ben had to go on campaigns for long periods, sometimes three to six weeks at a time. During such times, one or both of the children might become sick, leaving me to take all the decisions. On various occasions our son Frans had glandular fever and I had to treat him with great care. In his letters to me, Ben sometimes cautioned me to look well after him since his constitution had been weakened by the meningitis he had had on two occasions.
All sorts of unforeseen things were happening all the time, like the day when Jaco, on his way back home from school, then in grade A, stood with his two bare feet on a cobra snake, thinking it to be a thick stick lying across the footpath. Initially I managed to take it all in my stride but later on I could handle it no more. I got very rebellious and upset and said to the Lord: ‘I just cannot go on like this’. I even wrote a letter to Ben, just pouring out my heart and telling him how I felt about the situation. He tried to encourage me, but I knew that for him too, it was not easy to be away from home. We both, however, also knew we had to do it for the sake of those people that did not know God.
As I continued arguing with God, saying that I was not willing to stay alone with our two little children anymore and wanted Ben to be home with us, He answered me from His Word saying: ‘So He gave them what they requested, but sent a leanness within their souls.’ (Ps. 106:15, OAT). As I read this, I cried out: ‘No, please Lord, not that!’
I decided not to speak to anyone about this whole issue, but kept on praying. A few days later, Mrs. Von Staden visited me and said: ‘We have been praying about the fact that Ben is away from home for long periods while you and the children have to stay at home and decided to withdraw him from the campaigns so that he can be at home with his family.’ Shortly after that, he was indeed back with us for keeps!”
LAUNCHING THE AUDIO CASSETTE AND RADIO MINISTRY
This was to be a totally new phase in our lives. By that time we had long since, park home and all, moved from my uncle’s smallholding to the Dorothea Mission premises at Rosslyn where we were given a home. There were also several other homes where other Mission workers were staying as well as the Ladies’ Hostel and the Bible School for our African students. So we were a nice little community there, having good fellowship with one another.
My first job was to set up an audio recording studio to record messages and songs which we were then to transfer onto audio cassettes. We were allotted a little storeroom somewhat separate from the other buildings, for this purpose. To make it soundproof was a formidable task, for the premises adjoined a railway station with diesel engines thundering past every now and then. The noise was not entering only through the roof and walls, but also through the ground. We bought many roles of plastic fibreglass wool which we laid on the ceiling and affixed to the walls to keep out the noise and muffle the echo within the room. We did not even have separate control and recording rooms for this was a new thing to the Mission and it was hesitant to invest a lot of money in a project that might not bear spiritual fruit. Martie and I did most of the work ourselves and very soon our “studio” was ready to be used.
Initially we only had a small handheld cassette tape-recorder and a single microphone to do the job. The messages had to be preached all in one go for we had no way of cutting out portions of it or of joining two pieces of tape together. We got our African co-workers to bring the messages. While a person was preaching, I of course also had to be absolutely quiet in doing the recording, for we were both in the same room. Notwithstanding the difficult circumstances, we speedily built up a considerable supply of cassettes in two or three indigenous languages.
The next step was to purchase a machine that could duplicate the master cassettes. This was a very expensive item but one of my relatives donated the funds to buy it and so one day I came home with this beautiful brand-new Sony duplicator. Martie got the job of duplicating the cassettes and did this very efficiently, also affixing a printed label with a distinctive serial number to each. We bought and erected shelves and stacked the small “loaves of spiritual bread” onto them. The reaction to the catalogue and letters we sent out to the friends of the Mission amazed us. Orders started flooding in and so we were right into business in a relatively short time.
Once the foundation for spreading the Gospel by means of audio recordings had been laid, the Lord made a further move. He lay it on the heart of a son-in-law of Mr von Staden, Tom Barlow, to come up with the idea of broadcasting Gospel messages to the Makua people in the heart of Mozambique. He had earlier on also been in the Mission and had got to know an evangelist with the surname of Saukila in Malawi, a country much further north of South Africa. Though this man’s mother tongue was Chichewa, he also was fairly fluent in the Lomwe/Makua language and Tom thought that he might be able to assist us in compiling messages in that language.
We had in mind airing this program through the transmitters of Trans World Radio, a well established Christian radio station in South Africa. So one day Mr von Staden and I travelled to its South African headquarters. Mr von Staden remained in the car praying for me, while I went in to discuss the issue with the head of the broadcasting station. My main problem at that stage was to obtain a suitable recorder for quality audio recordings, at that time done by means of huge reel to reel machines which I did not have.
The Director of Trans World Radio was very appreciative of the fact that we intended to tackle such a difficult programme and assured us that they would give us all possible assistance. He put his word into action by presenting me with an old Ferrograph recorder which had in earlier years been used by the British Broadcasting Corporation and was still in good condition. He also gave me a couple of tapes of Christian songs in the Portuguese language, the official language of Mozambique, also spoken and understood to some degree by many of the residents, for at that stage we did not have a single Christian song in the language we wanted to broadcast. Mr von Staden, of course, was just as delighted when I told him what had transpired between us and showed him this prize piece of equipment. After scouting around and some extra funds having been received, I also managed to acquire a Revox- and later on even a professional quality Studor recorder.
In God’s work, the most important part always is to find the right man for the job. By that time we had of course already negotiated with brother Saukila to undertake this work and so we now made final arrangements with him and sent him the first batch of 10 to 12 minute messages to translate. As soon as we received word from him that he had completed the translations, we arranged for a date and paid for his passage.
At last he arrived for his first recording session. After all the trouble we had taken to set up the studio, it was a bit of a disappointment to discover that he was not all that fluent in the Macua language, especially not in reading it. I had to stop the recording frequently, wipe out some of what had been recorded and then let him start all over again. This was very difficult to do properly for any speaker is mostly unable to begin where he left off, in the same pitch and volume so the process has to be repeated over and over, a very time consuming task and still resulting in a final product sounding pretty terrible. This meant that we often had to record a specific message numerous times to produce an acceptable quality for broadcasting purposes.
Our lack of equipment also brought its own challenges. Without an audio mixer you had to manually string together pieces of tape containing the different components of your program such as the signature tune, initial announcement, main message, musical item, and closing announcement, one after the other, to produce a complete recording. So what you did was to play the signature tune from the first recorder and record it on a clean tape with a second recorder, leaving a small blank space at the end of the recording. Then you recorded the next item and the next onto the same tape until all items had been recorded.
Starting from the beginning, you would then play this master tape up to the point where the first item ended and mark it with a special marker on the back of it. The next step was to rotate the two reels slowly by hand until you could hear the start of the following item, stop rotating and again mark the position on the back of the tape. Then you pulled the tape away from the recording heads and laid it into the groove of a splicing unit. Using the cutting tool, you cut diagonally across the tape at the end of the first recording and at the beginning of the second, removed the piece of blank tape, carefully matched up the two ends of the tape and joined them on the back with a piece of adhesive tape provided for this purpose. The joined tape was then removed from the splicing tool and laid in position on the recorder’s heads again. If the job had been well done, you would be unable to detect that the tape had been joined when you listened to the recording afterwards.
After a while we managed to obtain some more funds and imported an Alan and Heath mixer from Britain. This made the job much easier for you could feed different playback recorders each into a different channel on the mixer and, by opening and closing the different channels while, at the same time starting the recorders at the exactly right moment, you could transfer the components of your program onto the master tape with much less trouble. Much later, we even got to the point where we had a cluster of machines, most of which had the ability to start automatically the moment you opened the slider for a specific machine on the mixer. By queuing up the different machines to the exact right spot from which you wanted them to play back, you could then sit down at the mixer and by just opening and closing the channels on the mixer, go right through the compiling of your final programme without ever having to stop or to get up and start a specific recorder. (Nowadays everything is done by computer. The music, the message and all the other elements of your final product are pre-recorded electronically and patched together by cutting and pasting as you would with a Word document. You can of course also include a host of other miracles to enhance your final product.)
However, that was how everybody did it in those early days and I was very thrilled when I eventually had acquired the skills of the trade and it was a great day when I made up the first few tapes into packages and posted them to Swaziland from where they would be broadcast over the shortwave transmitters of Trans World Radio reaching deep into the heart of Mozambique. We all bunched together around the radio to listen to the very first programme of “Mphatso ya Mulungu” (the Makuwa for “Gift of God.”). Beforehand we had made quite sure that we had tuned in to the correct frequency and after listening to some other broadcast in an unfamiliar language for a couple of minutes, at the exact right time, we heard our familiar signature tune followed by brother Saukila’s high-pitched voice speaking to the 2 ½ million Macua/Lomwe people in their own language, bringing them the message of hope at a time when the whole of Mozambique, and especially those northern tribes, were plunged into a devastating guerrilla war that was to last for 15 years before peace was at last restored.
PRAISE BE UNTO HIM FOR EVER MORE!
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